Continuing the changes that began last spring with the decision to remove the comprehensive written exam from the major requirements, the Department of English has now begun re-examining the major’s course requirements and curriculum.
“I think the major [as it currently exists] we have is designed around the idea that we’d be sending a significant chunk of our students off to graduate school,” Professor Jené Schoenfeld, Department of English chair, said. “[Now] there are a lot of different directions compared to 10 or 20 years ago for people with a B.A. in English.”
Schoenfeld cited feedback from an external review, a worsening academic job market and shifts in media consumption as driving factors behind the potential updates to the curriculum and major.
While the updated major is still under development and no specific changes have been released yet, the historical breadth requirement seems to be an area of discussion. “We still want English majors to have an understanding of the strengths and qualities of different genres [and] different historical periods,” Schoenfeld said. “But perhaps the depth of study in things like genre or literary periodization is less necessary if you’re not likely to teach in a very specialized historical period.” Another focus is expanding class readings further beyond texts written by English and American authors.
Current English majors expressed optimism about the trajectory of the department, especially the increased focus on literature beyond the traditional Western canon. “The same books are covered again and again in a lot of English classes,” Gabi Acuña ’20 said. She pointed to recent hires in the department specializing in literature of non-white communities as an example of the changes.
Dani Martinez ’21 thinks the updates to the major will be especially important for marginalized students in the department. “In the past I haven’t seen myself represented in a lot of the literature that I’ve studied in classes,” she said. “There’s a population that has [representation] a lot of the time, and then there are subsets of the students at Kenyon that don’t have that a lot of the time, and I think [these changes] will be a really helpful step.”
While the current dialogue will lead to shifts in the curriculum, the heart of the major will not change. “There’s an important core that remains unchanged: the idea of being a critical reader, and a critical thinker and a clear communicator,” Schoenfeld said.
The department hopes to have an updated curriculum by 2021 or 2022, with the changes only impacting students who enter the major after that time or those who choose to opt in. As the conversation within continues, faculty encourage student input as well.
“If students have thoughts, they should get in touch with me because I would love to include them in a meeting,” Schoenfeld said.